In his third season as Nebraska's starting right cornerback, DeJuan Groce (pronounced Deh-WAN GROSS) established himself as one of the top cover men and punt returners in the nation. The 5-10, 190-pounder from Garfield Heights, Ohio, is one of the nation's top dual- threat players as reflected by his postseason honors.
Groce, who finished fourth nationally with 17.0 yards per punt return (43 returns, 732 yards, 4 TD), was selected as a first-team All-American punt returner by the American Football Coaches Association. He also earned first-team All-Big 12 honors as a punt returner from the Big 12 coaches, the Kansas City Star and the Dallas Morning News.
Groce joined 1972 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers as the only players in NU history to amass 1,000 career punt return yards. Groce ranks second in school history with 1,218 yards and his 732 yards this season broke Rodgers' single-season record of 618 yards in his Heisman Trophy-winning 1972 season. Groce's five career punt return touchdowns also trail only Rodgers' eight in school history.
Groce ripped off the third-longest punt return in school history with an 89-yard touchdown in NU's 24-13 win over Missouri. With his third punt return touchdown of the year, Groce tied Rodgers' school single-season record set in 1971. Groce's first two punt return touchdowns of 2002 came against Troy State on returns of 83 and 72 yards. The two return touchdowns set a Nebraska record and tied an NCAA record with two punt return touchdowns in the same game. Groce finished the regular season with five punt returns of 25 yards or more this season.
In addition to his lethal abilities as a punt returner, Groce continued to be one of the top cover men in the conference. He was a second-team all-league selection as a cornerback by several sources and was a fourth-team All-America corner according to The Sporting News. He finished the season with 61 total tackles, including 38 solos, and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. He has also added seven pass breakups on the year to run his career total to 40, third on the school career list.
Groce picked off two passes in back-to-back games against Troy State and Utah State to become just the second player in school history to record two interceptions in consecutive games, joining Bill Kosch, who picked off a pair of passes against Iowa State on Nov. 7, 1970, and two more against Kansas State on Nov. 14, 1970.
Groce had a career-high 15 total tackles against Texas, including 12 solo stops, the most by an NU defensive back since Mike Brown's 19 vs. Texas in 1998. He finished his NU career with 142 career tackles to rank 10th hall time among Husker defensive backs.
Groce completed his undergraduate work this semester and graduated last week with a degree in communication studies.
2001: Groce shined on special teams, where he served as a gunner on punt coverage and was one of the nation's top returners. One of the Huskers' most explosive players, Groce had four returns of 25 yards or more, including a 60-yard return for a score in NU's 31-21 win over Kansas State. He ranked ninth nationally and third in the Big 12, averaging 14.2 yards per return, while his 469 yards ranked third in school history and better than the team total of 102 of the Division I-A teams last season. His total trailed only Johnny Rodgers' 1971 and 1972 totals on NU's single-season charts. He had four or more returns four times with a career-high seven returns for a career-high 145 yards at Missouri.
Groce was an integral part of a Blackshirt defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally in four major defensive categories, including second in pass efficiency defense (83.8), sixth in scoring defense (15.8 ppg), eighth in total defense (287.2 ypg) and ninth in pass defense (170.3 ypg). Opponents completed 43.3 percent of their passes, a low total that led the nation, while Groce had three of NU's 19 interceptions. He notched 31 tackles, including 19 solo stops, and a team-high 14 pass breakups, a total which ranks third in school history. The Blackshirts held six opponents to under 210 yards of total offense and nine of 13 opponents to 14 points or less.
Groce missed part of the season opener against TCU with an ankle injury, but still had four stops in helping limit the Horned Frogs to six first downs and 186 total yards in NU's 21-7 victory. Groce was solid in NU?s 42-14 win over Troy State, making one tackle and tying for the team lead with a pair of pass breakups. Against 17th-ranked Notre Dame, Groce turned in one of the finest defensive efforts of his career, setting career highs in tackles (eight) and solo stops (seven), while intercepting a Matt LoVecchio pass and returning it 40 yards (career long return). Groce also had a pass breakup, as Notre Dame quarterbacks managed 119 yards on 32 pass attempts. He also returned four punts for 24 yards. Groce was solid defensively in Nebraska?s 48-3 win over Rice, making one solo tackle and breaking up a pass. On special teams, he recorded the Huskers' first blocked kick of 2001, when he deflected Brandon Skeen's 41-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter. He also had four returns for 58 yards, including a then-career-best 20-yard return. Groce turned in his best performance of 2001 in the Huskers' 36-3 win over Missouri, earning Big 12 Special Teams Player-of-the-Week honors. He also tied a career high with five breakups, equalling the second-best single-game total in school history, and had three tackles, including a pair of solo stops. Groce and the Husker defense allowed just 16 completions in 43 attempts. He ran back seven punts for 145 yards, an average of 20.7 yards per punt, including runs of 26, 24, 21, and 24 yards to set personal highs in both returns and return yardage. Against Iowa State, Groce picked off his second pass of the season (for nine yards) and returned a pair of punts 38 yards, highlighted by a then-career-long 34-yarder, but suffered bruised ribs which limited him to two quarters of action. Groce traveled to Baylor, but did not play because of the injured ribs. He returned to action against Texas Tech, breaking up a pair of passes and making two stops in the Huskers' 41-31 victory. He also returned two punts for 34 yards. Groce turned in a solid performance in the Huskers' 20-10 victory over second-ranked Oklahoma. He finished the day with five tackles, including three solos, broke up a pass and returned five punts for 40 yards, highlighted by a 33-yard return that set up a Husker field goal. Groce enjoyed a quiet evening, as Kansas didn?t challenge the Husker defensive backs, completing 8-of-17 passes for 79 yards. He didn't make a tackle, but recorded his third interception of the season and also returned three punts for 19 yards. Groce made three tackles against Kansas State, including one for a three-yard loss, and broke up a pass, as KSU completed just 4-of-18 passes. He provided the game's decisive play, returning a Mike Ronsick punt 60 yards for a touchdown, his longest return in regular-season action and first TD return of his career. He also added a 10-yard return to finish with 70 return yards in the 31-21 victory. In the loss at Colorado, Groce made four tackles, including a solo tackle. Groce had four tackles in the 2002 Rose Bowl against Miami, including three solo stops. He had three punt returns for 85 yards including a 71-yard touchdown return with 14:28 left in the fourth quarter to pull the Huskers to 34-14.
2000: Groce had an excellent season alternating with Erwin Swiney and playing every game at right corner. He also played left corner in NU's nickel package. Groce broke Ralph Brown's school record for pass breakups in a season with 17, two more than Brown's 15 in 1999. Groce had three or more pass breakups in a game four times, including a career-best five at Iowa State, four vs. San Jose State and three vs. both Kansas State and Colorado. On the year, he had 26 tackles, including 20 solo stops, and a tackle for six yards lost vs. Kansas. He had a season-best seven tackles at Oklahoma, including six solo stops. His lone interception was in the season opener vs. San Jose State. Groce had six tackles in the 2000 Alamo Bowl vs. Northwestern, including five solo stops.
1999: Groce played in every game as the backup left corner, taking over as the left corner when Craver moved to nickel back. Groce had at least one tackle in 12-of-13 games and had 24 tackles, including a season-high four tackles against ISU and Kansas, and two breakups. On special teams, Groce had two punt returns for 17 yards vs. California. Against Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl, Groce had one tackle in the 31-21 win.
1998: As a scholarship athlete, Groce redshirted in 1998.
At St. Edward HS: An All-America defensive back by Parade, SuperPrep and the National Recruiting Advisor, Groce was also a member of PrepStar's Dream Team. He earned all-state honors from the AP and was a Best of the Midwest selection by the Detroit Free Press in 1997. He played safety and corner and returned kickoffs and punts for St. Edward his sophomore, junior and senior years after transferring from John F. Kennedy in Cleveland. As a senior, Groce had 23 receptions for 389 yards and four TDs, while recording 22 tackles and two interceptions. On special teams, Groce averaged almost 27 yards per return and returned seven kicks for scores during his three-year varsity career. He also ran the 100 (10.7 best) and 200 (21.9) in track. Groce picked Nebraska after visits to Michigan State, Indiana, Ohio State and Syracuse.
Personal: Born on Feb. 17, 1980, DeJuan is the son of Debra and Warren Groce. A communication studies major, Groce is on track to graduate in December 2002. He has visited hospitals as part of Team Spirit. Groce is also a two-year member of the Unity Council.
Tackles - 15 vs. Texas, 2002
Solo Tackles - 12 vs. Texas, 2002
TFL - 1-6 vs. KU, 2000; 1-3 vs. KSU, 2001; 1-2 vs. MU, 2002; 1-1 vs. OSU
Quarterback Hurries - None
Passes Broken Up - 5 at Iowa State, 2000; at Missouri, 2001
Interceptions - Total 8-75-0: 1-0 vs. San Jose St., 2000; 1-40 vs. Notre Dame (career long), 2001; 1-9 vs. Iowa State, 2001; 1-0 vs. Kansas, 2001; 2-5 (career high) vs. Troy State, 2002; 2-21 (career high) vs. Utah State, 2002
Blocked Kicks - 1 (41-yard field goal) vs. Rice, 2001
Most Punt Return/Yards - 2-155 vs. Troy State, 2002
Long Punt Return/TD - 89 yards vs. Missouri, 2002, TD (71 vs. Miami in 2002 Rose Bowl, TD)
Number of Career Punt Returns of 25-Plus Yards - 9 total; 4 in 2001; 5 in 2002